It was the incident that marred an otherwise exciting edition of the Bathurst 1000, and now Supercars and their governing body have dished out further sanctions to DJR Team Penske for their breach of FIA rules.
The Confederation of Australian Motorsport (CAMS) conducted a hearing on Saturday and found the Shell V-Power Racing Team guilty of a regulation breach when they enforced controversial team orders during a critical moment in the endurance classic.
After the safety car was deployed on lap 135 following international wildcard Alexander Rossi binning the car at the final corner Fabian Coulthard in the No. 12 Ford Mustang was instructed on the team radio to exercise “extreme caution” and was warned about debris on track as well as overheating issues in the car.
This repeated instruction led to the bizarre scenes of the then third-placed Kiwi backing up the entire field coming onto Conrod Straight, including eventual race runner-up Shane van Gisbergen and Scott McLaughlin.
What was obvious to viewers of the live broadcast was that race winner McLaughlin, who was tucked in behind Jamie Whincup at the time of that fateful safety car, was saved from the possible threat of double stacking during the pit stop that subsequently took place as well as the likely trouble that would be caused by Van Gisbergen.
DJR Team Penske was stripped of 300 points from the teams championship, handed a $250,000 fine, of which $100,000 is suspended until 31 December 2021, and had Coulthard relegated from sixth to last in the final Bathurst 1000 classification.
McLaughlin has been able to retain his maiden Bathurst 1000 win and the first victory at Mount Panorama for the team since 1994. What transpired was not directly of the 26-year-old’s doing and thus it can be understood why the Peter Brock Trophy was left in his and Alex Premat’s hands.
As far as sanctioning the team was concerned, DJR Team Penske have been largely spared. While the fine is the largest ever seen in Supercars, a monetary penalty means little as a precedent when organisations like Penske can bankroll a successful race programme. The same can be said of Triple Eight, who’ve been a juggernaut in the category for more than a decade.
Losing 300 points in the team standings will also have little impact given they lead the championship by 423 points. The importance of the teams standings in Supercars is that it determines the order in which the teams line up in the pit lane the following year.
Triple Eight were team champions in 2018 and thus get the garages at the top end of the pits, giving them the advantage of having a minimal pit exit time after a stop. Even during the Bathurst 1000 this advantage was obviously – when both top-two outfits were forced to double stack, the Red Bull drivers benefitted.
With DJR Team Penske likely to clinch the team title this year, they’ll be the ones who get that sought-after garage space in 2020, which is why they should’ve been excluded from the championship altogether given the severity of their breach in Bathurst.
Where the fallout of this incident crosses the line is the negativity being directed towards Coulthard, who has been heavily criticised for his role in the team orders debacle. Described as being a ‘sacrificial lamb’ by his fellow drivers, the Kiwi stood to gain nothing from following the orders to slow down, and now even that sixth-place finish for him and co-driver Tony D’Alberto has been taken away, making him the biggest loser of the verdict.
A stand must be made against unsportsmanlike behaviour, and while Supercars and CAMS didn’t shatter the earth with the punishment, the matter has been dealt with and the penalties have been handed down.
The damage has already been done in terms of tainting this year’s Bathurst 1000. Rather than being remembered for McLaughlin’s near-perfect weekend culminating in his maiden victory at The Mountain, outsiders and rusted-on fans alike will look at it as the race DJR Team Penske manipulated.